Update: A Memorial Service for Dr. Lee Thornton was held at 3 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013 at the Memorial Chapel on the campus of the University of Maryland. Download the program.
COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Dr. Lee Thornton, a trailblazing and award-winning journalist, news producer and educator who served as the first Eaton Broadcast Chair and as interim dean for the Merrill College – passed away Sept. 25 after a brief illness. She was 71.
“Lee Thornton was a journalism and communications scholar. She was a broadcast journalist. She excelled at both,” said Dean Lucy Dalglish. “And she could move back and forth in those fields seamlessly and be spectacularly good at both things.”
“Dr. T” brought her years of experience working for local and Network TV — at CBS, CNN and NPR — to Merrill College in 1997 and quickly became known for her “thorough yet caring” style of teaching. She taught television news reporting and production and documentary filmmaking as well as graduate courses. She overhauled and expanded the student news programs from ten minutes to 30 minutes. Over the years, her Merrill students won in excess of 80 national and regional awards and citations. Many of her students went on to successful careers as journalists.
She was also the creator, researcher, writer, producer and host for “Front & Center,” an award-winning series of in-depth interviews with journalists produced by the Merrill College’s cable station, UMTV. It was shown locally, nationally on Research TV and internationally on WorldNet.
“She was really something special,” says former Merrill College Dean Tom Kunkel. “She was a great, great teacher. It was really a treat to watch Lee with her students.” He says she was tough but had great affection for her students.
When Dean Kunkel left to take the presidency of St. Norbert College in 2008, Thornton was asked to serve as interim dean – the first female dean of the college and the second African American. While in that role, she oversaw the development of the college’s strategic plan, and the college became a Carnegie Knight News 21 journalism school, one of only 12 so designated in the nation.
Throughout her tenure at the University of Maryland, she became an integral part of campus life. After retiring from the Merrill College, she was asked to serve as the Interim Associate Provost for Equity and Diversity in 2011. As such, she was responsible for early implementation of the university’s diversity strategic plan. Following her retirement from the University, Professor Emerita Thornton returned to join the UMD Graduate School as Ombuds Officer for Graduate Students.
Thornton served on numerous campus committees, including panels that selected the prestigious Banneker Key scholarship winners. She served on the Research Development Council, the advisory board for the American Journalism Review and on the board of Terp Magazine
Thornton was recognized as University Woman of the Year in 2011.
“Not only did Merrill College turn to her time and time again, the entire university did so,” says Dalglish. “So this entire campus is in shock today.”
Watch the Video Tribute to Lee Thornton when she retired in 2010:
Merrill Faculty: Remembering Lee Thornton for her Professionalism and Caring
Merrill College takes pride in having faculty members that have been professionals in journalism. Lee Thornton, was a critical mentor in helping me make that transition from the newsroom to the classroom. As terrific a journalist as she was, she was also an outstanding teacher, who genuinely cared for her students and her colleagues. I turned to her many times for advice, solace – and always a good laugh.
Lecturer, Broadcast Journalism
Former NBC News Correspondent
Lee Thornton stood out as an educator and consummate journalist who had a path-breaking career at CBS news. An elegant figure who insisted that her students perform at their highest levels, Dr.T., as the students called her, made a lifelong impression on the students in her broadcasting classes. She assisted many of them in getting jobs in broadcasting and followed their careers with great interest. They loved her – and she loved them.
-Professor Emerita Maurine Beasley
Author, “Women of the Washington Press”
“What a special special person: smart, gifted, funny. A great professional, a dear colleague, and one of the best teachers I ever saw.”
– Professor Carl Sessions Stepp
“Lee was a thoughtful, engaging and inspiring professor, who with kindness pushed her students to experiment and grow. She cared deeply about excellent teaching, and was a a tremendous mentor.”
– CNS Annapolis Bureau Chief Jackie Incollingo
“Lee was an amazing teacher, journalist and friend, who served as a role model for so many of us. I loved her style, her wit, her warmth, and her work ethic. And I loved that she cared so deeply about each of us. Her legacy is worldwide — in all the journalism careers she helped launch.”
– Chris Harvey
Multimedia Lecturer / Director of Assessments
“Lee Thornton was truly a credit to the Philip Merrill College and the University of Maryland. She was smart, warm and the most welcoming person and colleague anyone could know. How sad and depressing to hear the news of her passing. But what a joy to have known and worked with her.”
Director, Povich Sports Center